It’s mid-October and usually the coaching carousel is spinning a little faster, though two Power 5 head coaching jobs came open early. Both firings were for cause, as well: Northwestern fired Pat Fitzgerald in July and Michigan State fired Mel Tucker in late September. There will certainly be other programs ready to split with their head coaches this year, although I don’t expect a lot of changes this year. (Then again, I’ve thought that in recent years and the sport stills wraps up with more than two dozen changes.)
Here’s our latest assessment after talking to numerous industry sources about the FBS coaching landscape.
What we learned in CFB’s first half: Pac-12 peaking, UGA cruising, and who’s ‘back’?
Ryan Silverfield, Memphis
The former Tigers offensive line coach was promoted from within and has a very respectable 25-18 record. However, expectations for Tiger football are much higher than they were before Justin Fuente elevated this program more than a decade ago. Silverfield had some tough losses a year ago and finished 7-6 overall, but 3-5 in the AAC. His 12-14 record in conference hurts, but Memphis is 4-2 with a win against Boise State and Navy and a close loss to Missouri. The rest of the schedule is very favorable. Only one of their last six opponents has a winning record, 4-2 SMU and that one is at home. Nine wins is very realistic. Anything less than 8-4 will be disappointing.
Temperature check: Pretty warm, but he should be able to cool it down
Mike Bloomgren, Rice
Bloomgren is another O-line guy in his first head coaching job. Unlike Silverfield, though, Bloomgren took over a program that was in worse shape, having only won nine games in the previous three seasons. The 46-year-old former Stanford assistant struggled to get much traction early, going 7-23 in his first three years. There’s been some gradual improvement the past two years, going 5-8 and making a bowl game in 2022. The Owls are off to their best start in a long while at 3-3 with a win over Houston, but a loss last week to a then-winless UConn team stings. Their schedule the rest of the way is much tougher than Memphis’. They have 5-1 Tulane later this month and the rest of their opponents, aside from Charlotte. are .500 or better. Six wins would be a big accomplishment.
Temperature check: Warm
Jeff Hafley, Boston College
I thought this was a terrific fit when he got the job, but after a decent 6-5 start in 2020, it’s been very rocky — especially last year’s injury-ravaged 3-9 season. BC is not a hyper competitive place. The Eagles gave Steve Addazio plenty of time in the job, despite the program backsliding and painted by some internal issues. This season started out ugly with a loss to NIU, but the Eagles almost upset a top-5 FSU team, losing 31-29. Close wins over Army and Virginia probably didn’t do much to boost the fan base’s confidence, but sitting at 3-3, the Eagles do have a good chance to get bowl eligible, and that is a step in the right direction for a coach many believe in. They have very winnable games ahead; UConn, Virginia Tech and at Pitt remain, and those teams have a combined record of 6-13.
Temperature check: Warm
Dino Babers, Syracuse
This is Year 8 for Babers. There have been some pretty high highs (a 10-3 season in 2018, some big upset wins and viral postgame speeches) and some very low lows (1-10 in 2020). He’s only 18-42 in ACC play and I heard that coming into this season, the pressure on Babers was mounting. There’s been frustration that his staff hasn’t been much of a presence around the old Cuse recruiting base that fueled a lot of top-20 teams in the Dick MacPherson/Paul Pasqualoni days. This year, Syracuse started 4-0, but that came against struggling teams. Since ACC play started, they’ve dropped three in a row and each in blowout fashion. The Orange have lost their last two by a combined 81-10 score. The good news: There are no other opponents with winning records in the final five games. Seven wins is very realistic. Anything less than 6-6 would feel like a horrible finish given this slate of opponents.
Temperature check: Kind of hot
Dave Aranda, Baylor
One of the most celebrated defensive minds in football has had a roller coaster first four seasons as a head coach. He debuted 2-7 in the pandemic season of 2020, where he ended up gutting his offensive staff. The following season, Baylor was fantastic, going 12-2 (most wins in school history) and finished No. 5 (highest ranking in school history) but that was followed up with a 6-7 year and left many Baylor fans feeling like that great season was largely fueled by the talent Matt Rhule had left behind.
This year’s start has done little to convince them things are headed back toward the top 10. The Bears opened with a loss to Texas State and then to Utah, both at home. They beat FCS LIU and were then blown out by Texas. They did have a frantic rally to beat UCF but got hammered at home by Texas Tech later. They have no other ranked opponents remaining.
Big 12 sources have noted a big drop off in the Bears’ talent level. It’s reflective of the 2020 transition class from Rhule to Aranda that has proven to be sorely lacking, so now, Aranda is having to play a ton of young players. As shaky as the last year-and-a-half has been, word is that Baylor brass has a lot of faith in Aranda. His deal was extended two years ago when the Washington, Oregon and USC jobs were open. They know the man can coach because they saw him lead the program to its best-ever season. The hunch here: If things don’t perk up in the second half of the season, Aranda might have to make more staff changes, but the belief in him is still strong.
Temperature check: Lukewarm
Midseason All-America teams: 50 stars of the college football season so far
Dana Holgorsen, Houston
Let’s start with this: Houston brass has said and done some pretty volatile, and downright outlandish, stuff in regard to their expectations of this program just in the past decade. They have had a really short fuse. Holgorsen feels like a really good fit there as Houston moved up to the Big 12. Two years ago, he went 12-2; he’s had four career top-20 finishes, with three coming at his previous stop, West Virginia. Last year, he went 8-5, which felt underwhelming given what Houston did the previous season. But as Holgorsen himself told our Sam Khan: “I have five years on my contract with a f—ing impossible buyout. … So there ain’t no f—ing hot seat in my mind. There just ain’t.” (Holgorsen’s buyout is around $15 million.)
This season got off to a brutal start. The Cougars lost to cross-town rival Rice for the first time in a dozen years and then got blown out by TCU and Texas Tech. They just pulled off a miraculous win on the final play against what was a 4-1 West Virginia team, a win the Cougars badly needed to get their first-ever Big 12 victory. Texas comes to town next. An upset would do wonders for this program, but that feels like a long shot. After that, though, things look pretty tasty. The Cougars have Baylor, UCF and Cincinnati, who are a combined 1-8 in the Big 12 this year. Oklahoma State, which started out poorly, has gotten hotter, but that game’s in Houston and is gettable. A bowl game is very realistic.
Temperature check: Sort of hot …. but because it’s Houston, it’s always a few bad losses from getting sticky
Neal Brown, West Virginia
He did a terrific job at Troy, but he had back-to-back losing seasons coming into this year. His team was picked to finish last in the Big 12, behind all four of the new conference additions. Even though I’ve heard that his new athletic director, Wren Baker, is a big believer in Brown, another losing season would be rough in the eyes of a very spirited, football-loving fan base. Brown’s team has responded well, going 4-1 to start after a loss at a powerhouse Penn State team in the opener. Wins over rival Pitt and then against Texas Tech and at TCU look very good. The last-second loss at Houston was a heartbreaker, but I feel like Brown’s got this program in right direction. His buyout at $13 million isn’t insignificant for WVU. Aside from a trip to Norman, the Mountaineers also have a good shot in their other five remaining games. I think 7-5 sounds about right, but 8-4 isn’t out of the question.
Temperature check: Much cooler than it was a month ago
Tom Allen, Indiana
Indiana has had one top-15 finish in the last half-century, and that was on Allen’s watch during the 6-2 run in the 2020 pandemic season. The Hoosiers got to No. 11. Since then, it’s been brutal: 8-22 overall and just 2-19 in Big Ten play.
Allen’s a respected man among his peers and is a good defensive coach. Since offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer left Indiana after the 8-5 season in 2019, Allen’s cycled through three OCs, including this year’s move off of Walt Bell to Rod Carey. Unlike a lot of coaches on this list, Allen works at a place where football isn’t the main thing; hoops is, and he’s still got a big buyout, especially for Indiana. The buyout (around $20 million) still might be too big of a hurdle for the Hoosiers, but at 2-4, they’ll probably be an underdog the rest of the way, with the possible exceptions of a home game against Michigan State and at Purdue. If they go 2-10 again, things probably will get really dicey, although 3-9 might be a tough sell too.
Temperature check: Pretty warm and getting warmer
Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green
This is his fifth year and the former Michigan quarterback is still looking for his first winning season. Last year, his team went 6-7 and lost in the Quick Lane Bowl, which was a saving season for a coach that had opened 4-17 in MAC play. At 3-4, the Falcons already have had a few blowout conference losses this season, falling 38-7 at home to Ohio and 27-0 at Miami-Ohio. But Loeffler does have a nice win at Gerogia Tech and just beat Buffalo on the road. Better still, he has three games left against the worst teams in the league: Kent State, Akron and Ball State, who are a combined 3-18.
Temperature check: Hot, but will probably cool down
Mike Neu, Ball State
The former star quarterback for the Cardinals has been here almost a decade. He’s had a Top 25 season (in 2020) and led BSU to two bowl games. His 34-54 record doesn’t look good, nor does a 1-6 start this season. Aside from a home game against 1-6 Kent State, the Cardinals will be underdogs the rest of the way. This all feels like an uphill climb. The transfer portal has not been kind to the Cardinals. Their star running back, Carson Steele (1,556 rushing yards in 2022) is now the No. 3 leading rusher in the Pac-12 for UCLA. Their former starting quarterback John Paddock is now at Illinois. Adding to this dynamic? Neu now has a new AD who might be interesting in making his own hire.
Temperature check: Getting a little warm
Danny Gonzales, New Mexico
The former Lobos player hasn’t been able to get much going in his first three years, going 8-24 and 3-20 in conference play. His team is 2-4 this season; its lone FBS win is against a dreadful UMass team. On the bright side, the Lobos’ next two games are against Hawaii and at Nevada, the other two worst teams in the conference. Losing both would be pretty ominous.
Temperature check: Hot
Ken Wilson, Nevada
He was a respected assistant for a long time, spending 20 years at this program as a trusted colleague of Chris Ault before getting this job. It’s been a dismal start. He’s now 2-16 and still looking for his first MWC win. The positives: Nevada did give Kansas all it could handle before losing 31-24. It also did lead what’s proven to be a good Texas State team on the road, 17-0 at halftime, before going down 35-24. With home games against New Mexico and Hawaii remaining, that first league win is very possible. If Nevada loses out, a winless season might be too much for it to stomach. One other key note here: Wilson’s boss, AD Stephanie Rempe, wasn’t the person who hired him, and the Scott Woodward protege, who came from LSU, might be looking to make her own hire.
Temperature check: Getting hotter
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
This is by far the biggest one to watch. The buyout is insanely high, around $76 million. But the man who once led FSU to a national title has really, really underperformed at Texas A&M, and there’s no getting around that.
They are paying him gobs of money with the expectation that this program will compete for national titles and he just lost his eighth consecutive road game. The Aggies have lost two in a row and have dropped nine of their last 12 games against Power 5 opponents. They didn’t even make a bowl game last season despite a roster loaded with five-star talent and what was regarded by the online recruiting services as the highest-ranked recruiting class of all time. He’s had one good season in College Station: 9-1 in the pandemic season of 2020. Since then, the Aggies have not finished a season ranked in the AP poll.
His hire this offseason of Bobby Petrino has been underwhelming. The Aggies are No. 10 in the SEC in offense and dead last in red zone touchdown percentage. As one source told me earlier this season: “It’s Year 6. What is Fisher going to do now that’ll convince anyone at this point that he can lead them to a national title? What’s another 8-4 gonna prove?”
Texas A&M, I’m told, will find the money to get rid of him if he can’t get this thing going — and yes, it absolutely does matter to important folks down there that Texas has a chance to be a College Football Playoff team this year … and Steve Sarkisian has been on the job for half as long as Jimbo.
Temperature check: Hot and getting hotter
Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M has shown what it is. Will it ever be anything better?
Butch Jones, Arkansas State
The Red Wolves have had plenty of success since Hugh Freeze first got this place rolling over a decade ago. Jones, in Year 3, had a bad first two seasons, going 5-19 and 2-14 in conference play. This year has been better with a 3-3 start, but those wins did come against an FCS team, a bad Southern Miss team and UMass. Winning one or both of the next two games — against Coastal Carolina and at ULM — would help a lot; after that, the last four games will be a lot harder.
Temperature check: Getting warmer
Terry Bowden, ULM
The 67-year-old is at a place that is near the bottom of the FBS in resources and it’s playing in a league that has many excellent young coaches. The Warhawks went 8-16 in Bowden’s first two seasons and are 2-4 now. They opened the season beating Army and they did lose by one point to App State and at Texas State, so Bowden’s players are still battling for him. The last three games of the season will be brutal: vs. Troy, at Ole Miss and at Louisiana, so it’d benefit him a lot to win a couple of the next three games, all of which are winnable.
Temperature check: Pretty warm
Mandel’s Mailbag: Ryan Day or James Franklin — who needs a win more?
(Illustration: John Bradford/ The Athletic; Photos: Alex Bierens de Haan, Scott Taetsch / Getty)